I love coining new terms. Sometimes they are just dumb old puns and sometimes they are a tad more clever. I gather a group of pastors every Thursday and I call it the “Synagaggle,” which would literally mean “a gaggling together” if the Oxford English Dictionary would pay attention to me and grant it some legitimacy. Still, I think it is one of my better attempts at moving the English language along in a helpful way. So, You’re welcome.
Now, I have another term: “Newmal.” It’s not “normal” as in “getting back to normal” because that kind of retrogression isn’t always automatically a positive step. It’s not “new” because we often seem to imagine that anything “new” is likewise “improved” and that’s not always the case either. And it’s not the “new normal” which is a term that we optimistically imply will arise when some chaotic episode destroys the “old normal,” but too often simply looks like a way of keeping the powers intact that got us into a mess in the first place. In order to avoid ‘normal’ and ‘new’ and ‘new normal,’ I offer “Newmal.”
Here’s how I define “Newmal”: The opportunity following a disruption to re-assess; to discover that some things we took for granted are quite precious and we need them; to realize that some things were simply what we did by momentum or inertia; to accept that a disruption can be devastating in so many ways and yet still hold some promise to re-focus on who we are called to be. As one can see in the word, there is acknowledgment of the “new,” but not with the arrogance that we have greater wisdom than our forebears. And the word acknowledges what we once thought of as “normal,” but not in a way that it grants the past unquestioned authority. The power of the “Newmal” is that it arises from the dynamic interplay of both the great things God has done and the new thing God is doing.
My inspiration for the “Newmal” is the early church in Antioch. They were driven there by persecution in Jerusalem and a diaspora to places abroad. Yet, when they got there they found a golden opportunity to rethink what the church was, how it could look, and how it could operate. Perhaps it was less that they “thought” about as much as they simply found new doors ajar and pushed through them. Some folks started sharing the gospel with Gentiles and, hey, they welcomed it! Someone went and fetched a person who had been a nemesis but who had a change of heart and, hey, they got Paul as one of their teachers. Someone felt the need to help victims of a famine and, hey, they sent out the first missionaries with relief money. The book of Acts didn’t preserve the minutes of the Antiochene Strategic Planning Committee, but somehow or another they still managed to live into the opportunities that God opened up.
So, now, we can do the same. When we find ourselves wanting to “get back to …” we should simply pause long enough to ask if that’s what God is calling us to now. To do so is not a criticism of what we did once upon a time, but an awareness that sometimes what was becomes a springboard for what can be. And when we find ourselves assuming that the new way is the only way, we should simply pause long enough to discern what the past was all about. To do so it not to say, “We’ve never done it that way before” but to listen for what God has done as an indicator of what God will do.
Why be normal when we can be “Newmal”?
Mark of St. Mark